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Employee interview, August 24, 2004

In this interview, El Peecho interviews a former Pennhurst State School caregiver.

Q: How long did you work there?

A: I worked there until 1981

Q: What was your job function?

A: Licensed Registered Nurse

Q: Did you witness any abuse while employed there?

A: No

Q: What were the living conditions like?

A: Some of the buildings were dormitory style, others were modulars. Some of the dormitories had dividers - some did not. They were working on improving the living areas. The living conditions were pretty clean

Q: In your opinion, did Pennhurst assist with providing a positive learning experience for the residents?

A: Yes they did. They had schools, cooking classes, etc. They had everything. They had more than the average student has. They had workshops which they got paid for. Some of the kids didn't want to work and they were never forced. They were safe. The speed limit around the buildings was 15 m.p.h.  Everybody looked out for their "kids". Some of the kids that weren't institutionalized were in danger of getting hit because they were running wild in Philadelphia (E.P. - Many of the Pennhurst residents were from the Philly area and surrounding suburbs because of close proximity) Pennhurst was the best job I ever had in my life.

Q: What was a normal day for a resident at Pennhurst?

A: I'm not sure, I worked second shift. During the day they went to school or went to work depending on their ages. They didn't have to work. They went to town often. There were many activities. They could go fishing, swimming, bowling. They could go to the canteen and listen to the jukebox. There were so many activities.

Q: What's your opinion on the lawsuit that eventually closed Pennhurst?

A: You get a mother who puts their child in the school . I took care of that child when he was only 4 years old and knew that he was extremely retarded. The child was severely retarded and tended to hurt himself a lot so it's automatically abuse. So because of one mother, the whole school has to suffer. Before the 50's there were no tranquilizers or anything to control the children. The press really put a spin on things. They used photos that were from a long time ago. The 1920's and 30's. Sometimes only way to control these children was to physically subdue them. All they had was restraints and such back then.

Q: Do you know about the cells in the attic of the Limerick building?

A: What is the Limerick building? Oh, the L building. We didn't refer to the buildings by the names just the numbers. They started that much later - using the names. No I don't know anything about that. I didn't work at L building. There were other places in Pennhurst that had isolation rooms.

Q: Were there any in the tunnels?

A: No, the tunnels were only used for traveling building to building. I can't remember which building off hand that held the isolation rooms. Let me tell you this, everybody needs quiet time. I don't care if you're retarded, a basket case or normal. I need quiet time everyday - "leave me alone". You know? You have to understand that these people lived in constant racket. There was never any peace. You needed to put them somewhere quiet when they were out of control.

Q: Do you know of any residents that were "normal" that were committed there?

A: Yes. There were a few. One woman I knew, she was an old lady, lived there most of her life. Her and her roommate were both normal but they were "bad". They liked the boys and got into a lot of trouble so it came to the point were they were committed and spent most of their lives there.

Q: Any comments or stories you wish to add?

A: Pennhurst only got the negative stigma attached to it after it closed. It was a pretty happy place when it was open. I remember the first day at work - I was scared to death! I walked down the hall of one building and the kids would call me Mom. I thought that was strange! How did they know I was a nurse? They used to call all the nurses Mom. It came to a point where whenever you heard "Mom!" you would answer "What?" because that's just what they used to call you. I loved working there. It was the best job I ever had. I miss it.

Thank You Very Much for the Interview!